A faculty strike signs rests against the Cheapside St. entrance to Fanshawe College . (Photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News)

Support Fund Doesn’t Add Up According To College Student Associations

College student leaders say students are being bilked by the provincial government, following Ontario’s longest college faculty strike in history.

The heads of student councils and unions at a number of Ontario colleges issued a statement on Thursday, urging the provincial government to reconsider the current structure of the Student Support Fund.

The details of the fund were announced by Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews on November 20, the day after the government ended a five-week long faculty strike that affected half a million students at the 24 public colleges.  Full-time students who experienced financial hardship as a result of cancelled classes, will be able to apply to the support fund to receive up to $500 for the unexpected costs they incurred.

The money saved by the colleges during the strike is expected to be used to create the support fund.

However, student associations are crying foul over the total amount the ministry is promising students.

During a meeting between Matthews and student leaders, the minister promised approximately $5-million for the support fund.  The student associations said that amount does not come close to their “conservative” estimate of around $135-million in savings accumulated from unpaid wages for the 12,000 striking faculty members.

“The ministry says each student can apply for up to $500 after they ‘prove their hardship’, yet we are told there is only about $5-million in net hardship funds available. For that math to work, only 10,000 students can access the maximum allowable amount, which is less than 5% of the full-time students in the province,” said Morganna Sampson, the student union president at Fanshawe College. “This is a system full of inherent barriers to students. That math does not work for me. All students, at all colleges, deserve fair and equal treatment, hence, we are requesting the funds to support that.”

The student leaders said they are left asking where exactly the remaining funds are being invested.  They have accused the ministry of being extremely vague in its explanations.  According to student heads, the ministry has said much of the money will go towards lost revenues, tuition reimbursements and added expenses caused by the strike.

According to a statement from the ministry, full-time students are eligible to utilize the fund for incremental childcare costs, rescheduled travel expenses, and rent fees for the month of January. As well, students who decide to withdraw from college because of the strike will receive a full tuition refund.

“It would be a more efficient use of public administration money to have 24 colleges submit strike expenses to the ministry, rather than 250,000 students required to submit the explanations of their hardships to their college,” said Sampson.

Student leaders also said the ministry does not acknowledge students who will suffer lost wages over the holiday break.

“It is imperative that the government create clear directions to the colleges as to what constitutes net savings, as to not completely deplete the fund before students get access,” the student associations said in a statement. “All students have experienced a financial hardship and are thus entitled to a fair and equal amount.”